12-String Bass String Reviews

S.I.T. Power Steel "Juan’s Blistering Harmonics & Plenty of Punch Set” Custom 12-String Bass Strings
A Review by
Juan R Leõn

A few weeks ago I tweeted a short comment about my love for the S.I.T. Power Wound Nickel 12 string Bass Set. I commented on their wonderful tone and great feel. I also commented that I would love to see a lighter gauge, stainless steel set. Well, a day later I was contacted by Tim Pfouts of S.I.T. about helping me out with a custom set. I told him what I wanted and he said he would get back to me. A couple of days ago I received my custom set in a nice white package with the words “Juan’s Blistering Harmonics and Plenty of Punch Set” right across the front. I had commented to Tim in an e-mail that I wanted a set that would deliver those exact things. And they do.

The custom gauges that I was looking for were somewhat lighter than the 2 sets that S.I.T. currently offer (or any other string manufacturer for that matter). Here is the rundown:
        Fundamentals:  30 (G) - 50 (D) - 70 (A) - 90 (E)
        Octaves:  18 (G) -  25 (D)  - 30 (A) - 40 (E)

Long scale, stainless steel roundwounds. The octaves have the bass string size ball ends. These are S.I.T. Power Steel strings which are made from USA #430 stainless steel wrap over USA hex-core. All Power Steel strings are wrapped using S.I.T.'s exclusive S.I.T. Level Wrap process which keeps proper tension and angle under extreme power winding. This ensures consistent feel and tone with brilliant brightness, clarity and plenty of punch. Like all of S.I.T. strings these were expertly crafted in Akron, Ohio. My custom set cost me $40.00. This is not an off the shelf product and that price point is certainly modest.

The Power Steels have a wonderful and crystal clear harmonic sweetness with plenty of growl and mid range that is at once cutting but never harsh. The sustain is impeccable with slow die-off. The strings are easy on the fingers (and neck) while not feeling too “jangly”. I tend to find 12vers strung with heavier gauges too feel stiff and un-responsive to subtle finger articulation. With this set I can execute fast runs with ease and more precision while vibrato and legato laced runs feel comfortable. I don’t use a pick when I play so a gauge of this determination feels like heaven. The strings stay perfectly in tune, of course, and respond well to my aggressive and varied playing styles such as finger picking riffs, raking, slapping and tapping.

With my neck pickup all the way up they deliver a deep but not muddy resonance. With my bridge pickup all the way up and no neck they sound thunderous and piano like. I tend to use about 90% bridge pickup and 10% neck pickup with the mids up to 100, hi’s rolled to about 75 and the bass to about 90, and at this setting the S.I.T Power Steels make my Dean Rhapsody really shine.

Without even plugging in my bass I knew that these strings would do the job just nicely. I play through a Behringer 4x10 being pushed by a 1500w Crest Contractor Grade Power Amp and a Behringer Bass V-Amp Pro. I use this rig on larger gigs and out door settings. For smaller venues I run through a Carvin Micro Bass Amp. Both of these scenarios afforded the S.I.T.s to really shine while the larger rig most definitely allowed the strings’ overall timbral range to really come through. I have always been a fan of stainless steel strings and their ability to produce a truly piano like tone. Though S.I.T.’s Power Nickel sets are incredibly punchy, the Power Steels, to my ears, have that extra zip.

I can’t stress enough how important customer service is to any business and the folks at S.I.T. surely know a thing or two about that. The fact that Tim reached out to me to see what they could do to make my playing experience even better is a rarely seen trait these days. Tim listened to what I had to say, offered great advice, and then delivered a product that was exactly what I wanted, and needed. And the personal touch to the packaging was more than just mere frosting on the cake, it shows that S.I.T. pays attention to detail, at any level.

So for those of you looking for a lighter gauge set for your 12ver most definitely consider getting ahold of S.I.T. Ask for Tim and tell him you want “Juan’s Blistering Harmonics and Plenty of Punch Set”!

Juan R Leõn

www.juanrleon.com

www.jupitergroove.com


Curt Mangan 12-String Bass Strings
A Review by Mark Rowe

The latest entry into the 12-string bass string market is Curt Mangan. I wasn’t at all familiar with Curt Mangan or his strings. His company was established in 2004 and operates in Cortez, Colorado. Curt was the director of sales and marketing at Ernie Ball from 1986 to 2003 and before that he owned a music store in Longmont, Colorado. He personally play-tests first-run samples from every batch of strings his factory produces.

The story behind the creation of this set of strings is an interesting one. Rusty Olson, the owner of the Rockhaus Guitars music store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has dealt with 12-string basses and bassists for many years. He is known as a fellow musician and music advocate, and has been described as “a great guy running a great shop”. Last fall Rusty was doing some repair and set-up work for Tom Petersson on one of Tom’s basses. Tom told Rusty that he didn’t like any of the brands of bass strings currently available for 12’s. Considering that Tom’s photo is on one of the 12-string bass string packages, that is a rather surprising statement!

Rusty contacted Curt Mangan to solve the problem and the result is the first-ever set of commercially produced short scale 12-string bass strings. The only gauges that needed to be built special for this 12-string set were the .080 and the .100, both of which have a total outer wrap length from the ball to the taper of about 34½”. This enables them to also be used on most 32” medium scale basses, which by the way are Petersson’s current favorites. Except for these two strings, all of the other strings in the set will work fine on long scale basses. Making short scale strings in those gauges also enabled the company to create a short scale 4-string set that works well on Mustang basses.

These strings are part of the FusionMatched® nickel roundwound series. These are made by winding nickel-plated steel wire onto a hex-shaped, tin-plated high-carbon steel core. Nickel-plated steel strings are the most popular electric bass strings due to their balanced tone. Of particular importance to 12-string bassists, the octave strings have the standard bass-sized ball ends which work with almost every tailpiece.

I've been playing these strings for a few weeks now and I really like them! They sound very warm and full, and the tension is just right. While I still like the quality of D’Addario strings (and Hamer strings too since they are made by D’Addario, they just don’t have the colored ball ends), I’ve never been fully comfortable with the amount of string tension. The D’Addario’s feel a bit “heavy” to me and, even while I always play with a pick, they seem to be a bit slow to respond; as a result they sound a little duller than I like. By contrast, the tension of the Curt Mangan strings is just right, with the tone being livelier and more rounded. These really are great sounding strings!

I was a bit concerned about the Curt Mangan .020 gauge octave strings before I tried them. From experience with the D'Addario / Hamer strings, the .020's always had a rather harsh sound when combined with the EMG pickups in my Hamer B12L. That's a major reason I switched to SIT’s and their .018's a few years ago. But these .020's sound really good, much superior to the D’Addario’s and even a bit better than the SIT’s.

Each Curt Mangan string is packaged in its own individual envelope. I think that’s a very good idea even though it requires a little more packaging. When you only need to change out a single string you don’t have to unwrap an entire set to find the one you need. And in low light conditions you don’t have to guess which gauge of string you’ve grabbed. Very player / gig friendly.

Curt Mangan strings are a bit more expensive than some other brands. That’s to be expected of strings which are made one at a time by craftsmen and not mass produced by automated machines. A company motto is “Real Strings Real Tone” and these strings live up to it – they sound great, feel good and are a good alternative to the mass marketed brands. I’ll definitely be buying more!

For more information be sure to check out the Curt Mangan Strings website at www.curtmangan.com.


D'Addario Strings for the 12-String Bass
A Review by Steve Robertson

Last month I bought a set of D’Addario 12-string bass strings on Ebay and decided to give them a try. It had been a while since I restrung my 12ver and nothing beats the sound of new strings! I paid about $28.00 for them plus shipping. A few years ago I was paying twice that much for strings.

When I opened the package the first thing that jumped out at me was the different colored ball ends. D’Addario does that to cut down on packaging and I knew they did it with guitar strings but I didn’t know they did it with bass strings too. The different ball end colors suck! My Hamer B12A is the cherry sunburst finish so the green and red string ends look really bad. On the plus side, I like the fact that the headstock end of the lower strings don't have red colored threads, so the strings are silver colored all the way. I never understood why some companies put red ends on their strings.

The other thing I noticed is that there seems to be more tension than the SIT strings I have been using. I switched to SIT strings two years ago (after reading Surf’s review) and they have less tension. Previously I had been using Hamer strings. Since the Hamer strings are also made by D’Addario they both have about the same tension. The difference in tension from the SIT’s isn’t really extreme but it is noticeable. I prefer the lighter feel of the SIT strings.

I have played the D’Addario strings for a couple of weeks now. They sound good and feel good, even though there is a little more tension. They seem to be staying perfectly in tune and I haven’t had any string slippage at all. They are definitely a good quality, good sounding set of strings but I think I’ll be going back to S.I.T. strings.


Editor's Note: D'Addario uses a date code on every package of strings, they call it a Q-Code. It is found on the plastic corrosion intercept bag that contains the strings. The Q-Code allows D'Addario to track the date and production run of when the strings were made. This allows the company to track exactly which batch of strings is involved if a problem is discovered; if multiple problems from the same production run ever occurred, the entire batch could potentially be recalled from dealer stocks.

 

The Q-Code is applied using an inkjet printer and always lists the Item # and the Code #. The first number in the code is the last number of the year of the production date, in this case 2006. Months are designated by the letter in the second position and follow the alphabet with "A" being used for January, "B" for February, etc., so the "C" would designate March. The '3' dates this set to March 3rd. The remaining characters refer to the specific production run. In addition to code # 6C3G1, code # 8K25E1 from November of 2008 has been confirmed.


Down-tuning to low B using D’Addario piccolo bass strings
A Review by Ed Cantarella

First:
Piccolo gauges                .020, .032, .042, .052
Regular 12ver octaves    .016, .025, .035, .045

Being primarily a 5-string and 6-string bass player, one of the first things I was missing with a 12-stringer was my low B string (I seem to hit low D a lot). Tuning down a regular 12 set left me flapping and buzzing - no doubt due to my slightly slap-hammer technique of fingerstyle and the loss of relief in the neck. I resigned myself to doing the work on the nut and put on the bottom four strings from a 5-string set of XL's ( the cheapest way to go since D’Addario sells these in two-packs for around $30). I primarily worked the side of the nut slots AWAY from the octaves strings to maintain distance. Then I put on the piccolo strings ($14 a pack, you need two packs).  Ah, that was nice after some more setup.

Pros:
1. Much stronger, booming bass from a .135 string versus .100 as the cross section surface area of the larger string is almost DOUBLE that of the smaller string.
2. Piccolo strings are only 2-7 thousandths of an inch larger than octaves in a 12ver set so there is not much loss of treble, just not quite as much “sizzle”.
3. A spare Piccolo set is not too expensive to keep on hand should you break an octave.
4. Easier to play using root strings only due to greater height difference between root and octaves strings.
5. Additional range going low.
6. Action height remains the same.

Cons:
1. A little harder to fret octaves along with roots due to increased difference in size.
2. Will require some setup and a new nut either now or later should you decide to revert to standard 12ver strings and tuning.
3. Some loss of range due to no G string.

I’m now thoroughly addicted to 12vers. I just got a third (Dean) in addition to a Waterstone Ozone (natural finish) and a Hamer (black with custom shop ebony fingerboard).


Hamer 12-String Bass Strings
A Review by John Carpenter

Hamer StringsI recently bought a set of Hamer 12-string bass strings off eBay. It only took a week for them to arrive and even though the envelope was damaged the strings made it ok. I have tried the D'Addario strings on my Hamer CH-12 and they sounded fine but I hate the different colored ends - they look stupid! From what I can tell the Hamer strings are identical to the D'Addarios except the Hamer strings ends are all the same brass color. I know D'Addario makes Hamer's strings for them.

The sound when I first put them on was good. Of course every new set of strings sounds good when you first put them on. The real test is how they sound after you've played out with them a few times. Like other strings the Hamer strings lose a little bit of their brightness after a while but not enough to be really noticeable. They seem to stay in tune well and I haven't had any of them break on me. I'll probably soak them in alcohol after a while to clean them because boiling them makes them wear out faster because they would rust.

I paid $39.99 for the Hamer strings plus another $14 for shipping. That is a bargain compared to what my local music store wanted to charge me for them (over $60.00!) but it seems pretty expensive compared to what I just read about the S.I.T. strings on 12stringbass.net. Next time I'm going to get the S.I.T.'s from Just Strings and try them.

I recommend Hamer strings for all 12-string bassists, it's just that they are a little more expensive than some other strings.


Waterstone Strings for the 12-String Bass
by Hans Grimm

In the summer of 2005 I emailed Waterstone, ordering two sets of strings for my Hense 12-string bass. I was in a bit of a hurry because we were due to record a new demo CD, and I was planning to use new strings for recording like I usually do. Unfortunately, Waterstone did not immediately react to my message as they were running with a skeleton crew because of vacation time, as Bob Singer explained to me when he replied to my email. When he shipped my order, he added an extra set by way of apology for the late reply. Very elegant, thanks Bob!

However, then I did something stupid: As the Hense bass was delivered to me two months before with new strings I decided not to put on the Waterstones, as I thought that was something of a waste and those strings really sounded fine. I don't know what brand Sungbo / Silverstar uses on the basses that they produce for Hense, Carlo Robelli, Venson and Galveston, but they sound well and last long. Having said that (about lasting long), I only strung on my first Waterstone set this month (July 2006) as we prepared to record again. When I put on new strings for recording, I always time that so that one practice session is planned before in order to let the strings settle.

When putting on the strings I found out that it is essential to sort them out first: These do not come nicely separated into their own little paper envelopes with E, A, D and G printed on them. You have to sort them out on sight, so doing this in a dark and noisy place could be a bit stressful.

When my bass was finally strung (this is some job when it's 33° Celsius in the shade), it already sounded great unamplified. When I plugged it into my Ashdown / Hughes & Kettner rig, I almost wet my pants... these strings sound really great!! When you ask me to describe the sound, I would ask you to imagine the Vienna boys choir gone Metallica; They can sing high and true, and they can growl at the bottom with the best of 'em. I never heard anything like this. This is my brand from now on. In a few weeks I will be ordering a Waterstone TP-2, and I think I will have them include a few more sets of those heavenly strings. If they sound this good on a Hense, how will they sound on a Waterstone?

When recording, the studio tech totally dug my sound. He recorded it using three channels: Direct, mic on the Ashdown, and mic on the H&K. The first rough mixes are done, and I have but one question to ask myself: "stupid idiot, why the f*ck didn't you put on those strings a year ago?". Well, as they say, live and learn...


S.I.T. Power Wound Nickel Strings for the 12-String Bass
by Mark Rowe

I have used several different brands of strings on my 12-string bass over the past three years. These have included GHS strings, which I wasn’t impressed with since they had a rather dull sound, the “Hamer brand” strings that are made by D’Addario, and I even tried Rickenbacker strings when I was in a jam, having to improvise with two 8-string sets. My preference has been the D’Addario’s. They are good sounding, consistently good quality and have definitely been my favorite. Until now.

I recently tried a set of Power Wound Nickel strings made by S.I.T. Strings. Stay-In-Tune strings are made in Akron, Ohio. I had never encountered these strings before. No local stores carry them in my area.

For those who are really into the technical specs, these strings have a Swedish Steel hex-core with a nickel plated cover wrap and are round wound. They claim that the hex-core produces a brighter, more stable string since the hexagonal corners lock the wraps into place. Every S.I.T. string is quality checked three times, once as it comes off the machine, once by a quality control staffer, and finally when it’s coiled.

The Power Wound strings have been their most popular and widely used bass strings and it’s easy to understand why. These are really good sounding strings! They have a very similar look and feel to the D’Addario strings but with a much rounder, warmer tone. They are very comfortable to play. The string tension is good, not too tight or loose. The gauges I tried are .095/.075/.060/.040 for the fundamentals and .045/.035/.025/.018pb for the octaves. Normally I use .020’s for the high G strings but the .018’s seem to help take off the nasty edge that can result with the EMG pickups. They are more subdued but still have the presence I like.

The real test for me was how these strings would sound when recorded. As many of us have discovered, due to the wide frequency range it’s tough to record a 12-string bass! It’s easy for me to get a good live tone with most quality strings. But the problem has been that when it came to recording, I have never been happy with my tone. I either ended up with that nasty high end or a wimpy sound lacking in lows. I am happy to report that these strings have made a significant improvement in my recorded sound. The warmth and roundness in the sound combined with a smoother top end has made a big difference. I’m actually looking forward to recording again, now that I don’t have fight with my tone every step of the way.

S.I.T. guarantees their strings to stay in tune, hence the name. And stay in tune they did. They have held their intonation very well. I’m definitely impressed with the sustain, these strings ring a long time!

I always buy my strings one set at a time. I’ve experienced just enough of the Dead String Syndrome when buying in bulk that I’d rather buy strings as I need them to make sure I get a fresh set. The problem with doing it this way is that it can get expensive. But SIT strings are much more reasonably priced than the other major brands. I found them for under $30 at www.juststrings.com. Problem solved!

I’m glad I discovered S.I.T. strings. I’ve been buying more!

Update:  "From Mark's recommendation, I decided to try SIT's on my B12L. What a huge difference. I had been using GHS (8LS-DYB's) for 8 years. The SIT strings are well worth it. Just try them once."  Dan Vashaw - Atlanta, Georgia